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Queen’s cowboys going to ’Vegas

The Queen’s cowboys have finally made it to the National Finals Rodeo.

Held in Las Vegas at the end of each season, the NFR is the Super Bowl of rodeos, drawing competitors who have earned top points across North America during the year, says Cpl. Dave Heaslip, in charge of livestock investigations for the RCMP in the north part of the province.

Heaslip’s journey as one of the first Mounties to ever make an official appearance at the NFR began two years ago when his counterpart for Southern Alberta, Cpl. Chris Reister, was looking for a black horse.

Heaslip and Reister both keep a small number of saddle horses, used primarily for working cattle. Heaslip also has the benefit of a two-year stint with the RCMP’s renowned Musical Ride.

Based in Didsbury and responsible for livestock investigations in the southern area of the province, Reister had heard that horse buyer Scott Irvine of Crossfield had picked up a couple of black horses.

Reister felt one of those horses might be a good roping prospect that could also be suitable for ceremonial duty with the RCMP.

He invited Heaslip, who lives near Ponoka, to come down and take a look and, by the way, bring his horse trailer.

Irvine said he divides the horses he buys into two groups.

One group includes the weak, aged, unruly or crippled horses that will be sold to meat processors in either Lacombe or Fort Macleod.

He also keeps a pen of horses that he considers sound and fit for resale.

It was in that pen that Heaslip found the horse he now calls Duke. He was about four years old and a little on the thin side. He was afraid of people and difficult to catch, but Heaslip liked his looks and felt he had good potential as a saddle horse.

Reister also picked up a horse that he felt would suit his needs with the right care and training.

With Major and Duke in the trailer and ready for a new home, Heaslip and Reister started talking about their fit as ambassadors for the RCMP.

It was a conversation with stock contractor Wayne Vold, whose clientele includes the Calgary Stampede and NFR, that started Heaslip and Reister on their path to Las Vegas. Vold’s role with the NFR include helping produce features for Canadian Night.

While working on their commanding officer for consent, the two cowboys found an indoor arena near Ponoka where they could work with their horses.

A major challenge would be to teach two animals that had been largely neglected to accept the noise, crowds and bright lights of the NFR. Duke would have to get past his fear of people if he were to face a crowd of more than 19,000 rodeo fans.

The two men worked on their horses as often as they could, riding them over tarps and playing loud noises, including fireworks, to prepare them for the road ahead.

They took Duke and Major to the 2012 Calgary Stampede, where the horses and their riders, dressed in the RCMP’s trademark red serge, greeted crowds of people. Duke was a perfect gentlemen, never moving a muscle except as required, said his proud owner.

They were ready for Vegas.

Heaslip said he was a little apprehensive as he and his partners carried their country’s flag and their organization’s reputation into the NFR arena for Canadian Night on Dec. 13.

They rode through a thick haze of artificial smoke into a bright, noisy arena and stopped at the centre.

A laser light system was flying the Canadian flag around the arena, over the crowds and toward the spot where the horses stood.

Heaslip said he could see Duke eyeing the flag coming from his left.

The horse raised his left foot as it slid by.

“He thought it was real,” said Heaslip.

Duke and Major are now back at their respective homes, learning more about the life of packing cowboys, roping steers and mugging for admirers.

Irvine called it a Cinderella story, where two horses cast off by their previous owners have found knowledgeable and caring owners.

He said he wishes more of the neglected horses that end up in his trailers could find lives like that.

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